By Joel Hall
On the second floor of the James M. Baker University Center at Clayton State University, members of the school's history society recently erected a memorial to fallen soldiers.
The small, but noticeable display recognizes the sacrifices of Riverdale native, Sgt. 1st. Class John Beale, as well as other soldiers in American history who have died in the line of battle.
Sgt. 1st Class Beale, 39, was killed in Afghanistan on June 4, while serving with the Georgia Army National Guard.
Central to the memorial display are pictures and biographical information on Beale. In addition to working for the Clayton County Water Authority, Beale was a history and political science major at Clayton State, according to Patrick Coleman, 2009-2010 president of the Clayton State History Society.
"I was approached by other members of the History Society," about constructing the memorial display, Coleman said. "Because he [Beale] was a history major, they wanted us to do something on his behalf. Initially [it was] a tribute to the memory of a fallen Clayton State student who was a history major ... I felt that the memorial should be inclusive to all veterans, who have died in the service of our country."
With items donated by Clayton's water authority, the Clayton State ROTC, and the Clayton State Student Veterans Association, the display features artifacts, pictures, medals, and equipment dating from World War I to the Persian Gulf War.
Among the items included are: A Purple Heart award and letter from President Harry Truman to the family of a fallen solider from the Korean War; a standard-issue helmet from a World War II veteran; an M17 1a gas mask donated by a Persian Gulf War veteran; various, dated photos of soldiers in combat; and a list documenting all of the enlistment numbers and causalities counted from every American war, dating back to the American Revolution.
Mannie Hall, director of academic outreach, and head of Clayton State's ROTC program, as well as a veteran of the First Gulf War, said the exhibit, which has been up since early July, has made people stop and notice.
"You can see when a display has an impact," he said. "When people go by, they stop, they look, and they reflect. All ROTC members, who anticipate joining the service, can reflect on that decision through a display like this."
Coleman said the Clayton State History Society is working on making the exhibit permanent in the University Center, featuring rotating items and regularly updated memorials to other local soldiers who have fallen in the line of duty. Eventually, he would like put some of the displays on the Internet, he said.
Jake Fountain, a history major at CSU who helped create the display, believes it tells the human side of combat.
"The goal is not just to see combat as numbers, but also people and their families," he said. "It's just a reminder that we can go our whole day without thinking about the sacrifices people make for our freedoms. Just because it is a part of history, doesn't mean it is history."